Family Law – Post-Secondary Support Case

Anne Sprute (Bradley), Respondent V. Eric Bradley, Appellant, 45608-7, Division II, March 10, 2015 (Published in Part)

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Post-secondary Support:

Couple divorced in 2003 and amended their child support order in 2011 to read  reserved post-secondary support.

Holdings:

(1) Sprute was not required to file her child support worksheets with her request for postsecondary educational support in order to timely request such support;

(2) Sprute’s GI bill benefits could only be applied to reduce her own postsecondary educational obligations under 38 USC § 3319(f)(3)

(3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to cap postsecondary educational support at the amount charged by UW, and

(4) the trial court erred by using the one-child column to calculate child support for the parties’ minor child because the parties were supporting two children.

 

May 2013, Sprute filed a petition to amend child support, requesting postsecondary educational support for the oldest child.  The initial petition did not include proposed child support worksheets and the court found rejected Bradley’s claim that since the child had graduated by the time the worksheets were filed that the petition for postsecondary support was untimely.

 

Court’s Analysis

(1) Worksheets do not need to be filed to in order to preserve filing date

Statute at issue – RCW 26.09. 175 ( 1), which states that a proceeding for the modification of a child support order ” shall commence with the filing of a petition and worksheets.”

Finding- Sprute exercised her right to request postsecondary educational support by filing her petition to modify for two reasons: language in CSO was that party had to exercise a right, not commence a proceeding and filing a petition to modify exercises that right and a petition to modify without worksheets is sufficient. (2) Following In re Marriage of Pollard, 99 Wn. App. 48, 55-56 (2000), effective date is the date filed, even if worksheets not filed for a year.

 

(2) Cannot Provide a Credit for Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits 

Overall question – is providing a credit for the GI Bill an impermissible division of benefits under 38 U.S.S § 3319(f)(3)?

The Post 9/11 GI Bill allows a recipient to transfer a certain number of months to her children and it’s not allowed to be considered an asset in marital distribution. Court distinguishes from In re Marriage of Boisn, 87 Wn. App. 912, 943 .2d 682 (1997), which held that if a third party paid, then a parent wasn’t required to reimburse the other parent. Here the court found that there was no “third party” paying for college because the GI Bill belongs to Sprute.

 

(3) No Cap for Postsecondary Education Expenses

The court noted that Bradley did not reference RCW 26.19.009(2) and the non-exhaustive factors. Instead, Bradley argues that it is not fair to make him pay for the most expensive college alternative, and that he does not have sufficient income to pay the award. The court said that the parents’ current and future resources is only one of several factors the trial court can consider.

Bradley did cite In re Marriage of Shellenberger, 80 Wn. App. 71, 906 P.2d 968 (1995) in support for the argument he cannot afford to pay the award. The court found that Bradley produced no evidence that paying the child’s postsecondary support would burden him to the point of filing for bankruptcy.

The court also rejects Bradley’s argument that postsecondary educational support generally must be limited to the cost of public school based on Shellenberger and In re Marriage of Sterns, 57 Wn. App. 707, 789 P.2d 807 (1990).  In this case, the court found that the trial court made specific findings justifying Joshua’s selection of an out-of-state school, that the parties had a history of sending their children to private schools.

(4) Must use the column for support based on the total number of children receiving support. 

The court held that post-secondary support is support and so the support for the minor child should be reduced by using the column for the number of children for whom support is owed, in this case two children. The Court cites In re Marriage of Daubert, 124 Wn. App. 483, 502-03, 99 P. 3d 401 (2004) and In re Marriage of McCausland, 159 Wn.2d 607, 152 P.3d 1013 (2103).

 

The rest of the opinion was unpublished, but they are interesting issues, so I include a summary of those issues as well.

  1. Discovery Issues – There was a concern about the completeness of the discovery by Sprute. The court found no discovery abuse, but did order certain additional answers and documents. The standard on review is abuse of discretion, decision is based on untenable grounds. In this case the documents provided could answer the questions for which Bradley said he needed additional documents. There was also a question of whether the documents requested could lead to the discovery of admissible evidence regarding Sprute’s net income.

 

  1. 45 Percent Cap on Child Support. RCW 26.19.065(1) provides that child support should be capped at 45% of a parent’s income. Bradley attempted to raise this issue on appeal, but he did not bring and the court declined to address this argument on appeal.

 

  1. Attorney Fees. Court declines both parties’ requests for attorney’s fees. Sprute because RAP 18.1 does not provide an independent basis for the award of fees. Bradley failed to request attorney’s fees in his opening brief, as required by RAP 18.1(b).

 

That concludes the summary of the case. There are several issues at play in this case that would make for an interesting appeal to the State Supreme Court. The issue of post-secondary support is a particularly challenging issue. The cost of a college education has sky-rocketed. With that, the amount that parties end up paying for post-secondary can surpass how much they paid when the child was dependent. It seems to me that there should be a cap on post-secondary support, at minimum the 45% cap should apply, but perhaps no parent should ever pay more post-secondary support than they would pay for a dependent child. Although perhaps this cap has to be created by the legislature.